#AZENET20: Let’s Talk About Soft Skills

I’m very excited to announce that I was recently elected as the 2020-2021 President of the Arizona Evaluation Network. As someone who has been involved in the American Evaluation Association since the beginning of graduate school, finding a local affiliate was one way to stay connected to our field throughout the year. The opportunity to propel the Arizona Evaluation Network forward with a fantastic board and membership, striving for an engaging, equitable, and relevant community, is definitely an honor.

In future blogs, I will focus more on my adoration of the field of evaluation, but here I want to share the theme for the Arizona Evaluation Network’s next conference (whoo, 2020!): Soft Skills for Evaluators (and institutional planners, analysts, project managers, and the like). In our most recent Arizona Evaluation Network conference, we took a moment to reflect and reengage in the fundamentals of evaluation. This prompted me to think about what else is relevant to practitioners and academics alike – regardless of the context in which we find ourselves in the field of evaluation (or the approach we take, for that matter). Combining that with the important critical role that interpersonal skills, reflective practice, and self-awareness play in our success (or so I think), soft skills was almost an obvious choice. So, let’s talk more about that…

As a starting place, I’ll share that I’ve had this realization, which is that by bringing more of me to my practice, reducing the disparity between who I am personally and the work I do, everyone benefits (probably one of those things someone much wiser told me 1,000 times but I had to learn the hard way). So, you could say my development of my own self-awareness (a really important soft skill if you ask me!) is something that has really shaped how I engage in projects and collaborate with clients.

The next reason is that when I take a moment to consider soft skills of evaluators, I see it as a multi-faceted concept that has the potential to enrich our work and, even more importantly, play a role in the impact of the organizations we partner with. Soft skills include having the ability to navigate difficult conversations…the ones where humility and vulnerability are at the forefront. It’s the point in which we remove ourselves from a pedestal, the expert role, and come alongside stakeholders to achieve a common, people-centered goal. Soft skills enable us to get the right voices involved, which often means more active listening and less prescriptive consulting. It’s when we are focused on who we are as people, knowing where our value-add is to an organization or community, and capitalizing on the skills of others (stakeholders and other evaluators) that we facilitate the greatest impact: we are stronger together! Soft skills also prompt us to consider our approach and recognize that sometimes we need to pivot. And almost more importantly, acknowledging that it’s okay to do so, as we’re trying to tear down the wall between consultants/experts and stakeholders.

As I consider our efforts to establish the technical skills needed to be effective practitioners, I propose that we should be simultaneously focused on the other part of the formula: soft skills. Because after all is said and done, if we can’t have meaningful dialogue with stakeholders…meeting them where they’re at…it seems aspirational to think that a reliance on our technical skills alone will result in the use of findings. Let’s start thinking beyond certifications and traditional forms of expertise. You might call it back to the basics on effective human interaction!

I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about the importance of soft skills, but even more pumped to hear about what others have found to be effective in their work. Look for more details in the coming months on the 2020 Annual Arizona Evaluation Network Conference (even better, get on our mailing list to ensure you receive updates like a cool kid!).